Summary: The Hogwarts students are playing Dirty Santa. Harry's gift is a romantic candle-light dinner. But who is his mysterious masked dinner companion? Time paradoxes, slash. One-shot.
Author's Note: This story is written for Taragh McCarthy's Dirty Santa Competition.
Rating: T for mild slash (same-sex love) between Harry and Tom Riddle.
"I don't get it." Ron wrinkled his freckled nose thoughtfully. "We're supposed to poke that old hat with our wands, and then we'll get a perfect gift?"
Professor McGonagall beamed and peered at him over her glasses. "Precisely, Mr. Weasley. Although the main purpose of this delightful game is not primarily getting, but rather giving. When you touch Father Christmas' enchanted hat with your magic wand, the hat will - much like the Sorting Hat - read your character, your desires, and your dreams. You will close your eyes and think about a perfect gift you secretly wish to give to someone, and the Hat will give that person your gift. The recipient will then have seven days to guess who gave their gift. If the recipient guesses right, the gift will be theirs to keep forever, but if they guess wrong, the gift will vanish when the seven days are over. Since each recipient may only make a single guess, please think carefully before guessing. The recipient must approach the hat before the seven days are over and whisper the name of the one they think gave their gift. The hat will let them know whether they guessed correctly. But remember that the giver is not to give the recipient any hints about their identity. Any hints about the giver's name, any at all, during those seven days, and the gift will be gone for good. "
Ron shook his head slowly. "But what if everyone wants to give their gifts to the same person? Won't the most popular students end up with all the gifts, while the others get nothing?" He glanced nervously at Harry.
"Hmmm..." McGonagall smiled slightly. "You know, Mr. Weasley, that question comes up every year when the sixth year students play this traditional game. It's a reasonable question, but for some reason, the game never works that way. There is always one gift for each player, for reasons I cannot explain. Perhaps it has something to do with the ancient magic of Christmas itself. In all the years this game has been played at Hogwarts, there was only a single time when something went wrong, and that year... Well, let's not go into that. Perhaps there are hearts so cold that not even the magic of this enchanted season can move them to generosity."
She glanced around at the expectant sixth year students. "Wands ready? Now, close your eyes and look into your hearts. Who do you most want to touch with your generosity this year?"
The students closed their eyes and stretched their wands out. McGonagall walked slowly from student to student, holding the old ragged red hat up to each person's wand in turn. As the wands touched the hat, a faint shimmering light shone from each wand.
Harry opened his eyes ever so slightly and glanced furtively at the faces of his friends. Who would he give his gift to? Ron, perhaps; Ron didn't have too many things to call his own. Or perhaps he would give Hermione another book, just to see her eyes light up. Or maybe Neville? Or Luna? He closed his eyes again and tried to concentrate.
"Look into your hearts and find the answer." McGonagall's footsteps paused in front of Harry. He could feel something touching his outstretched wand lightly. And before he knew what was happening, an answer formed itself in his mind: I want to give a ring to my true love. An image of a golden ring, engraved with a lion, flickered into his mind.
"Open your eyes," whispered McGonagall a few moments later. "Open your eyes and receive your gifts."
Harry opened his eyes slowly. Something was hovering in the air in front of him now, surrounded by a faint golden mist. A letter? Harry reached out and grasped the thick, cream-colored envelope that was floating before him. It was addressed in black ink, in an elegant hand: For you. Something about the handwriting struck Harry as vaguely familiar, but he couldn't think where he had seen it before.
Curiously, he opened the envelope and pulled out a note, written on heavy parchment in the same elegant handwriting: "I would like to invite you to join me for dinner this evening. Please meet me in the Room of Requirement in the seventh floor corridor, opposite the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy."
Dinner in the Room of Requirement? What an odd gift! Surely, that gift wasn't going to fit the rules of the game at all? For if Harry were to have dinner with his mysterious giver this evening, he would find out who gave him his gift, and McGonagall had warned them that no hints must be given... And if he did guess correctly, he was supposed to keep the gift forever. Would that mean that he would get to dine with his mysterious dinner companion every night for the rest of his life? No, that couldn't be right... Harry couldn't think of a single person he would want to dine with for the rest of his life.
He shook his head slightly and glanced quickly around the room. All the other students were gazing, enchanted, at their gifts. Ron was caressing a shiny new broomstick, Hermione was fastening a gold heart-shaped necklace around her neck, Neville was gazing lovingly at a strange bush of sorts, Luna was studying a silver comb...
Harry craned his neck. Who was wearing his ring? Nobody, as far as he could tell. Well, that probably made sense, since he had thought of such a ridiculous recipient for his gift: His true love. What a strange idea anyway! His true love was obviously not to be found among the sixth year students. Perhaps some lovely girl somewhere far away was at this moment gazing down at her hand in wonder, puzzled at the ring that had magically appeared on her finger. Or perhaps there was some girl somewhere in school who was wearing it, perhaps even... A name flickered into his mind: Ginny. Perhaps Ginny was wearing his ring right now? It would make sense, since he probably liked her as much as he had ever liked any girl. But for some reason, the thought of his ring on Ginny's finger made Harry feel strangely uneasy. No, the ring wasn't supposed to be hers... But if not hers, then whose?
The others were paying no attention to Harry; they were busy with their own gifts. "What a lovely comb," whispered Luna, tracing the outline of the silver ornament with her finger. "Look, there are tiny delicate carvings on it, of rabbits and the moon, and there is something written on the back: Because the light of your hair outshines the moon... And the rabbits' eyes seem to be made of diamonds..."
Harry glanced quickly at Neville, but Neville wasn't watching Luna at all; he was gazing in fascination at Blaise, who was leafing through a lovely old book, bound in dark blue leather.
But Draco's glance - Draco's? - was lingering on Luna, and there was a slight flush on his usually pale cheeks.
Harry shook his head slightly and slipped out of the room unnoticed by his friends. His heart beat a little faster as he wondered who he would meet this evening in the Room of Requirement.
Harry pushed open the door that had appeared in the wall in the seventh floor corridor and peered cautiously into the Room of Requirement. As he stepped inside, he found himself in a high-ceilinged candle-lit room.
An elegant table, covered in snow-white damask, was set for two. A single dark red rose in a crystal vase adorned the table, and delectable smells wafted from under the silver domed lids that covered the two plates. Two goblets of dark red wine waited for Harry and his host. On the wall behind the table, a tall arched window showed a wintry landscape illuminated by the faint silvery light of the moon. Snowflakes fluttered slowly through the darkened air. How could there be a window in the Room of Requirement? As far as Harry knew, rooms in this corridor had no walls against the outside world. Perhaps the silvery landscape outside the window didn't belong to Hogwarts at all, but some other enchanted realm...
But where was his dinner companion? Harry glanced quickly around the room, and he felt a flicker of absurd fear that he was about to catch sight of long, red hair... Oh, ridiculous! Ginny couldn't be the one who had invited him to dinner; this was a game for sixth year students only.
Something stirred in the shadows in the corner of the room, and a figure stepped hesitantly into the warm golden light from the candles. Harry felt his breath catch in his throat. But that was... a boy? He was a stranger, and yet something about him seemed so hauntingly familiar, as if Harry had dreamed of his face a hundred times over.
The boy was little taller than Harry, dressed in dark robes. The upper half of his face was covered with a black mask, but Harry could make out masses of dark curls, pale creamy skin, and a pair of silver-grey eyes.
Harry stood completely still for a moment and gazed at the unknown boy in wonder. Who was he? He wasn't one of the sixth year students at all, unless someone had used polyjuice potion. But if he had changed his appearance, why the need for a mask? The boy's silver eyes widened as he returned Harry' gaze with a long grave stare.
Yes, Harry had seen those luminous silver eyes before. They seemed to stir some sort of memory, a phantom whisper in his bones, a hesitant recollection... The two boys regarded each other in silence for a long moment.
"But you are a boy..." the other boy whispered finally. "But then... Are you the one who gave me this ring?"
He lifted his hand, and Harry saw something gold gleaming on his finger. He drew his breath sharply. His ring, the one he had wanted to give to his true love... It should have seemed all wrong, a boy wearing his ring, but somehow it didn't seem wrong at all.
He nodded slowly.
The boy's lips curled in a slight smile. "Well, at least you are not Walburga. I was a little nervous about that for a moment. I don't think I would have been able to bear it if she had been the one waiting for me in this room."
Harry smiled back. The only Walburga he had ever encountered was the portrait of Sirius' mother. If the Walburga the boy knew was anything like her, Harry could understand his feelings only too well.
"But who are you, then-" The boy broke off suddenly. "Wait, no. Don't tell me. If you are the one who gave me this ring, you can't tell me who you are. I will have to guess." His eyes searched Harry's face wonderingly
"Are you the one who invited me here for dinner, then?" breathed Harry.
The boy nodded slowly. "I am, yes." His silver eyes lingered on Harry, and Harry felt something strange and pleasurable tugging at his heart.
"So then I have to guess who you are as well," whispered Harry, "or you will vanish like a dream..."
The boy stood quite still. "But how will we guess each other's names when we have never met each other before? I don't even understand how you came to give me this ring, when you are not a sixth year student. The game was supposed to be for sixth years only." He sounded puzzled.
Harry stared at him. "But I am a sixth year student. And if you are too, how can you not know me? I don't quite recognize you either, although I do have a sense that we have met before. There is something about you that seems familiar to me, something about your voice and your eyes..."
The boy shook his head slightly. "But none of this makes any sense! I touched the Hat with my wand, and I wished to invite my... well, my true love... for dinner. And then a ring appears before me, and it's your ring. And here you are, waiting for me..."
He reached out, hesitatingly, and touched Harry' hair lightly with his hand. "And you are real," the boy whispered, "and not some fantasy I have dreamed up because I was lonely. But how can we not know each other, when we are both sixth year students here at Hogwarts? Are you... are you in disguise, somehow? I am wearing a mask, so the recipient of my gift wouldn't recognize me right away. Have you changed your appearance before coming here?"
Harry shook his head. "No. This is what I look like. Listen, I know that none of this makes any sense, but... Perhaps we should just get to know each other. Since we are both here, and since we... appear to have wished for the same thing..." He felt his cheeks grow hot.
The boy looked at him and flushed slightly as well. "Excellent idea. Let's have dinner together and find out more about each other."
They sat down at the table together, and the silver domes covering their plates vanished. They began eating, while asking each other hesitant questions. To his relief, Harry found that the boy was very easy to talk to. Before long, he had told the boy most of the story about his life, carefully omitting to mention his name. The boy listened intently, but to Harry' astonishment, it all appeared quite new to the other boy. How could the boy be a sixth year student at Hogwarts and not have heard of The Boy Who Lived?
The silver-eyed boy told Harry about his life, which was remarkably similar to Harry's in many ways. Like Harry, he was an orphan, and like Harry, he had suffered abuse and neglect as a child. And just like Harry, he had come to think of Hogwarts as his true home. Harry felt something stirring in his heart as he listened to the boy's tale. Perhaps it was pity, or a sense of familiarity, or perhaps something quite different... The moon was still a glittering scimitar in the darkened sky, but it seemed to Harry that the moon was not half as bright as the silver of the boy's eyes.
Perhaps there was an enchantment upon the room, for as they sat and talked softly to each other, the hours seemed to pass like fleeting moments. Harry was astonished when he glanced up and saw the first shimmer of pale daylight through the windows.
"I suppose I had better go..." he whispered. "It is morning, and I am expected back. I wish I knew your name. What if I never get to see you again?"
The silver-eyed boy looked at him for a long moment. "We can't let that happen. I have longed to find someone like you, and I can't let you vanish."
He got to his feet and pulled Harry up as well. "You say that you almost remember me... Try then. Try and recall my name, so we don't have to part from each other."
Harry shook his head slowly. "I've tried and tried all night, but I can't. It seems to me that you looked quite different when I saw you before... "
"Perhaps," breathed the boy, "this will remind you..." He leaned forward and kissed Harry softly on the lips. His kiss was as light as a whisper of wind against Harry's mouth, but it sent Harry's mind and senses reeling.
"Do you remember me now?" There was a plea in the boy's silver-grey eyes.
"Almost..." whispered Harry. "Kiss me again..."
The boy did, deeper and messier this time, and Harry felt himself melt into the kiss, merging with his companion, becoming one...
A curious shiver ran down his spine, and suddenly, he knew.
"Tom." Harry touched the soft dark curls with a hand that trembled ever so slightly. "But you are... Tom Riddle? But how is that possible?"
"You know me, then!" The silver eyes were shining now. "You must tell the hat, quickly, so we can be together in this room any time we want. But how shall I guess your name? I do so want to keep your ring! Why are you looking so pale, my love?"
Harry stared at the boy in front of him. "Tom, when did you... When did you touch Father Christmas' hat with your wand?"
"When?" Tom brushed his hand lightly over Harry's cheek. "Why, earlier today, of course, when Professor Beery passed the hat around."
Harry swallowed. "Professor Beery? What... what year is this, Tom?"
"What year?" Tom stared at him. "Why, it's 1942, of course. What year did you think it was?"
"When I touched the hat earlier today," whispered Harry, "it was 1996..."
Tom stood completely still for a moment. Then he whispered: "So that's why you know me, even if I don't know you... We are not of the same time. We will meet each other in the distant future, when I am old, and you are still young, like you are now. Am I much changed, then, in your time?"
Harry sank down into his chair. "Changed? Yes, I think you can say that, Tom..." A strange ache filled his heart as he gazed at the silver-eyed boy in front of him. "I wish.. I wish you could always be like this instead." He covered his face with his hands.
Harry glanced up, startled, as Tom whispered his name.
"It is your name, isn't it?" Tom brushed lightly over his cheek. "How odd... I was reaching out for you with my mind, and my mind seemed to melt into yours, to become one with yours, and suddenly I knew..." He swallowed. "I know that your name is Harry, and I know... Oh, Harry, I can see that part, too. The Dark Wizard you told me about, the one who gave you that scar... It's me, isn't it, love?"
Harry nodded silently.
"But that's terrible! And yet..." Tom's lips brushed against Harry's mouth. "And yet, I bear your ring on my finger, and when we both wished to give a gift to our true love, we found each other..."
They looked at each other in wonder for a moment.
"I wonder," whispered Harry, "what would happen if we step out of this room together right now? Would we be in your time, or in mine?"
Tom reached for his hand. "Let's find out, shall we, Harry? If we are in mine, we can stay with each other and change the future. And if we are in yours... Well, then the Dark Lord will encounter a new foe more formidable than any he had ever had to reckon with. For I will never let any harm come to you, my love."
They walked slowly over to the heavy oak door and pushed it open. Hesitantly, they stepped into the torchlit corridor together.
A dark-clad figure paused in front of the two of them. "Mr. Potter and... Mr. Riddle? Well, this is a surprise."
Harry and Tom gazed up at Minerva McGonagall. A slight smile spread over her old, kind face now. "After all these years, I see that you finally found your missing Christmas gift, Tom. It took you long enough."